PHIL 218 – Ethics: Good, Bad and Evil


This subject provides a basic grounding in ethics. Students are introduced to the dominant ethical theories – consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics – and key thinkers such as Aristotle, Mill and Kant. We will examine relativist and situationist challenges to conventional theories, and we will consider some issues in moral psychology, such as the role of intuition, the structure of self-deception and the nature of evil. We will examine the practical application of moral theories with regard to issues such as drug prohibition, memory modification and digital identity.

Topics include:

Ethical theory

This subject provides a foundation in ethical theory, via some of the foundational texts in ethics. Theories and thinkers include:

  • Virtue ethics, Aristotle (The Nichomachean Ethics)
  • Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill (On Liberty and Utilitarianism)
  • Subjectivism, David Hume (A Treatise of Human Nature)
  • Deontology, Immanuel Kant (Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals)

Ethics and psychology

We look at psychological research on the structure of moral motivation, the influence of circumstances on behaviour and on the nature of moral intuitions. We will consider the implications of psychological research in ethics for moral autonomy and responsibility.


We will consider the concept of evil and whether it should have a place in ethical theory. What does it mean to call an action or a person ‘evil’, as against ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’? Some philosophers hold that there is a distinct category of evil actions and evil-doers, and some hold that ‘evil’ is a socially dangerous concept that explains nothing.

Applied ethics

In order to think about the practical implications of the theories examined, we will look at some debates in applied ethics. Issues covered may include:

  • drug legalisation
  • privacy and identity in the digital age
  • human enhancement
  • memory modification
  • collective action problems and the prisoner’s dilemma



Ethics: Good, Bad and Evil is taught by Dr. David Neil, who is an expert in Ethics, Applied Ethics, and Biomedical Ethics.